Although Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz has been steadily refining her craft for the past 15 years, it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that her lightning-rod moment occurred. When fashion influencer Olivia Palermo appeared in the ‘Tulum’ top – a gracefully striped off-shoulder top with gathered, ballooning sleeves – Ortiz became an overnight sensation. Her overtly feminine silhouettes, which emphasized gleaming shoulders and décolletage, felt like a celebration of womanhood, fused with gorgeous nature prints or classic stripes. Ortiz’s aesthetic is fresh, sexy, and confident, and the popularity of her designs spread like wildfire across the globe.
In an instance of punctuated equilibrium, Ortiz went from steadily growing her business in her native Colombia to rapidly scaling to accommodate an international client base. Demands for her clothing went through the roof, but the unflappable designer was ready. Not only did she excel at meeting business challenges, but she also pushed herself to expand into accessories and, now, bridal. Featuring 12 jaw-dropping gowns, the new Johanna Ortiz Spring/Summer 2018 bridal collection, which is exclusive to Moda Operandi, represents the designer’s latest expansion.
In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, Ortiz details the newest chapter of her career, her passion for keeping her production local, and her philanthropic endeavors.
On the precipice of showing your breakout Spring/Summer 2015 collection ‘Nativa’, did you have any idea what kind of response you would get or was it a shock to suddenly have your products worn by major style influencers like Olivia Palermo?
We sure had big hopes, but it was just as much of a surprise then as it continues to be today; every day we’re more and more overwhelmed by the love we receive from women all over the world and how that positive response continues to grow. There have been many challenges, but we feel very fortunate and excited for the future.
The key is being true to your DNA regardless of how much you or fashion trends evolve.
Your “It” pieces that started it all include the ‘Pareo’ skirt and the ‘Tulum’ top. To what do you credit their breakout moments?
I feel those silhouettes came at a moment when women were looking to feel sexy and feminine without too much of an effort. Both the ‘Tulum’ top and the ‘Pareo’ skirt are, to me, definitions of effortless elegance and carry some kind of tropical wit that is true to Latin-American culture.
How quickly did you have to grow your business in order to meet a significantly increased demand?
Very fast! As I was saying earlier, we’ve faced several exciting challenges along the way and one of them has definitely been adjusting the company to an internationalized and increased demand. Hiring new personnel, opening new production slots, and creating new in-house departments are just some of the things that have helped structure and boost business.
I love a post you created on Instagram many years ago that said, “She decided to start living the life she imagined.” When did you start living the life you imagined?
One day, I walked into the Johanna Ortiz store in my hometown, Cali, and suddenly realized that none of the clothes that were on display were actually things that would excite me; they weren’t genuinely true to my style or character. For several years, I had been driven to please a specific customer rather than my creative intentions or myself. That day, I decided that, no matter what it took or how risky it seemed, I’d somehow re-set and only create things that I would imagine my JO woman would wear.
How does it feel to look around the field of fashion and see so many people copying your ideas? Does it ever frustrate you or are you proud to have started a global fashion trend with the off-shoulder silhouette?
In fashion, I think it’s rather natural for many individual ideas to become collective inspirations and for inspirations to become trends. It not only comes with the industry but also with current media possibilities. You find yourself at a bit of a crossroads sometimes because it is indeed exciting and flattering to be an influence, but when the similarities or the rapidness with which they’re picked up are such, it can become frustrating. I think the key is being true to your DNA regardless of how much you or fashion trends evolve.
You recently developed an accessories line, and you also launched a new bridal collection in partnership with Moda Operandi. What prompted this expansion?
It’s thrilling to think that we can partner up with women for whatever and whenever. Our creative outcomes are more robust when we add complements and accessories to garments, and in that way we’re also widening options for women who want to dress in JO.
Keeping it local is key to your brand identity, and you have managed to keep your atelier in Colombia. Why is this important to you?
First off, we have a sincere urge to promote opportunities in our community and encourage local talent. Also, all the richness and passion in our Colombian culture is more efficiently channeled into our brand when there’s a big group of Colombians working towards it.
How many people does your atelier currently employ? How many stores carry Johanna Ortiz around the world?
Today, we are 245 people at the atelier and in our headquarters. In Colombia, we have the flagship stores in Bogotá and Cali. We have many doors, including Moda Operandi, Harrods, Net-a-Porter, Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, and Neiman Marcus to name a few. I am happy to say that we are also sold in Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Women from every part of the world have the same sense of femininity and elegance.
Do you notice a substantial difference between your Middle Eastern clients and those from the Western world?
Not really. Women from every part of the world have the same sense of femininity and elegance. What I love is to see how each one styles it depending on their culture.
What has been your proudest moment as a designer so far?
My proudest moment is being able to give back through our ‘Semillero’ program. This is a very special project we have been working on through which we are teaching and giving possibilities to women from low-income families and training them as high-end seamstresses.
Johanna Ortiz’s bridal collection is available exclusively on ModaOperandi.com.